Just like at any conference, last week’s Tech Summit had its vendor room. Many of the people that I talked to didn’t engage with the vendors, though. There were a couple of common themes for this – they thought the vendors were just there to sell you something, or that the vendors’ products were nothing that you are interested in, or that there was no value in talking to vendors because they are not in a decision making role in their department.
These are all common responses, and I have thought them myself at various points of my career. Having matured a bit, though, I can say that there definitely is value in talking to vendors, and that these reasons are not as valid as we think.
Yes, these people are there to show off their products. After several years there have been very few that have pushed the hard sell. They know that we aren’t the ones who will be writing the check. They love to interact, though. While most companies do send sales teams, they also send engineers to explain the product. These are IT folks too, and love to geek out the same sorts of things we do. You can learn lots of tidbits just through this type of interaction that you would never pick up from a white paper.
Also remember that “corporate sponsor” means that they are helping to support the conference. If you enjoy the conference drop by and give them at least a “thank you.” This is often a good icebreaker to extend the conversation into other areas. A lot of times you find out things about the company that you didn’t know, or find out that some of their business is in areas that you didn’t know about but are interested in.
Probably most important, don’t think that you don’t affect decisions just because you aren’t in a managerial role. If you specialize in something, your bosses will likely come to you for input on topics relating to that area. If you have talked to vendors and have a sense of options they can offer your advice will be more trusted (and they will be more likely to come to your for advice.) It also pays dividends into the future. As you progress in your careers this kind of background knowledge becomes more and more assumed.
Interaction doesn’t have to be brilliant conversation. Half of the booths that I visited started something like “I’m in web development, what do you do that might be related?” Once the ice is broken, questions and discussion becomes pretty straightforward. So next time you attend a conference, approach the vendor room with a new sense of purpose.
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